Ganância ou ignorância

Getting the german argument right, por Simon Wren-Lews. O autor toca num ponto importante, que tentei explicar aqui: estímulos monetários e/ou orçamentais a nível europeu não são um ‘mal menor’ ao qual a Alemanha deva fechar os olhos – são algo em que os  próprios germânicos têm interesse. A partir do momento em que se percebe que o realinhamento de competitividade é uma realidade, a única opção que temos é decidir se o ajustamento se faz através de inflação acima da meta na Alemanha ou via recessão e deflação na periferia. Desse ponto de vista, a posição da Alemanha é muito mais o resultado da ignorância do que da ganância.

The problem with the second argument is twofold. First, it tunes in with the popular sentiment in Germany that the country is yet again being asked to ‘bail out’ its Eurozone neighbours. Second, it implicitly suggests that the current German macroeconomic position is appropriate, but that Germany must move away from this position for the sake of the Eurozone as a whole. The obvious German response is to list all the reasons why their economy is currently on track (see, for example, Otmar Issing in the FT recently), and suggest therefore that other countries should look at their own policies for salvation. This is how we end up needlessly discussing structural reforms in France, Italy and so on.

The uncomfortable truth for Germany, which both the previous arguments can miss, is that the appropriate macroeconomic position for Germany at the moment is a boom, with inflation running well above 2%. The current competitiveness misalignment is a result of low nominal wage growth in Germany over the 2000 to 2007 period, which was in effect (and perhaps unintentionally) a beggar my neighbour policy with respect to the rest of the Eurozone. Germany’s current position is unsustainable, as its huge current account surplus and relative cyclical position shows. It will be corrected by undoing what happened from 2000 to 2007. Over the next five or ten years, German inflation will exceed the Eurozone average until its long term relative competitive position is restored.

The only choice is how this happens. From the perspective of the Eurozone as a whole, the efficient solution would be above 2% inflation in Germany, and below 2% inflation elsewhere. That is what would happen if the ECB was able to do its job, and Germany would get no choice in the matter. Normally above 2% inflation in Germany would require a boom (a positive output gap), but if it can be achieved without that fine, although I would note that current German inflation is only 0.8%. Arguments that point to currently low unemployment and a zero output gap in Germany are therefore irrelevant while German inflation is so low. The inefficient alternative solution is for 2% or less inflation in Germany, and actual or near deflation outside. Why is this solution inefficient? Because to get inflation that low outside Germany requires the Eurozone recession we are now experiencing

This is where structural reforms enter. Many German commentators say ‘why cannot other countries do what we did from 2000 to 2007’? But low nominal wage growth in Germany from 2000 to 2007 was accompanied by a recession in Germany! Furthermore, that recession was not so bad as the current Eurozone position, because the ECB was able to do its job and cut interest rates, so inflation outside Germany was above 2%. So from 2000 to 2007 many countries had to experience above target inflation because of low nominal wage growth in Germany, [2] yet many in Germany want to avoid above target inflation while imbalances are corrected.

If your starting point is what happened in Germany from 2000 to 2007, then current German arguments can look incredibly self-centred. They seem to say: we suffered a recession from 2000 to 2007 which led to a beggar my neighbour outcome, now you have to suffer a worse recession to put right the problem we created. But as I have argued before, and which comments on my recent posts and readings confirm, I think the German position is more about ignorance than greed. I also suspect there is a great deal of macroeconomic ignorance outside Germany as well, which is why Germany has been able to impose a recession on the rest of the Eurozone. Take for example this paper by Michael Miebach, who speaks from the left of centre in Germany.

Miebach presents a wide range of macroeconomic fallacies or irrelevant arguments. Germany’s fiscal position is not good (irrelevant in a liquidity trap), its macroeconomic position is not too bad (when it should have above 2% inflation, which probably requires a boom), fiscal expansion in Germany would have only a small impact on the periphery (but what we should be talking about is fiscal expansion in all the main Eurozone economies, which this paper confirms would help the periphery as well as France, Italy etc, and expansion in Germany would benefit countries like the Netherlands), and the old canard about how focusing on demand distracts attention from dealing with structural weaknesses in the Eurozone. But most revealingly we have this.


One comment on “Ganância ou ignorância

  1. Joao diz:

    Bons argumentos, mas acho que o caso da politica monetaria e muito mais escandaloso que o da politica orcamental. No caso da politica orcamental os alemaes podem argumentar com problemas de excesso de divida, com a credibilidade perante os mercados, ou com a dificuldade de impor uma reducao futura da despesa em Franca ou Italia, ou mesmo na Alemanha, para compensar o aumento agora. Ou ate com a falta de consenso quanto aos reais beneficios de uma politica orcamental expansionista. Nao digo que sejam bons argumentos, mas sao argumentos a considerar.
    No caso da politica monetaria nao ha pura e simplesmente argumento nenhum. A inflacao europeia esta muito abaixo de 2% e o BCE e uma entidade credivel e (supostamente) independente. Nao ha nenhum risco para a disciplina orcamental. E os beneficios do QE estao a vista na recuperacao dos EUA. E no entanto raramente se ouvem, por exemplo, os governadores dos bancos centrais do Sul da Europa a defender uma politca monetaria mais agressiva, para contrabalancar as pressoes constantes do Bundesbank. Se e por ignorancia ou nao nao sei. Mas e estranho que os principais prejudicados estejam ausentes do debate.


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